In 1977 Ridley Scott was one of the directors of TV commercials that David Puttnam plucked from the small screen to make their feature debuts in the cinema. Based on a novella by Joseph Conrad, Scott’s first film was The Duellists, a costume drama about the obsessive rivalry between two cavalry officers in the Napoleonic wars. It was elegantly staged and respectfully received. It was, however, his second film, Alien, two years later that made him a director of world stature. This seminal science-fiction movie was in effect a transposition to outer space of a Conrad novel about a run-down tramp steamer picking up a lethally dangerous passenger from a remote island. Out there among the stars, where no one can hear you scream, as the advertising tagline put it, it becomes a horrific tale of a dilapidated inter-stellar cargo vessel, the Nostromo, answering an SOS and taking on board an androgynous monster of total malevolence. The Duellists was a virtually all-male affair. But third officer Ripley, one of only two female crew members on the Nostromo, was played by the formidable Sigourney Weaver, first in the succession of strong women in Scott’s movies.
Scott played no part in the decreasingly impressive Alien franchise that continued over the next 30 years. But he did make another seminal sci-fi movie, Blade Runner, and has apparently long been toying with the idea of a sort of prequel to Alien. This we now have in the form of Prometheus, an ingenious, well-worked-out exploration of the source and nature of the creature that caused havoc on the Nostromo, with a script by two young Americans, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. There are many direct and indirect references to Alien in the new film (as well as to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), which is more cerebral and mystical than Scott’s 1979 picture.
DIRECTED BY: Ridley Scott
STARRING: Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth Shaw), Michael Fassbender (David), Charlize Theron (Meredith Vickers), Idris Elba (Janek), Guy Pearce (Peter Weyland), Logan Marshall-Green (Charlie Holloway), Sean Harris (Fifield)
RUNNING TIME: 125 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: Currently showing
Prometheus begins, as Kubrick’s did, with a trail of clues on Earth that takes the explorers into space. In 2089 two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (the lively Swedish star Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient pictograms in a cave on Skye that persuade them that visitors from a distant planet have visited Earth. She’s a practicing Christian sporting a cross around her neck, he’s a militant atheist, and they gradually become convinced that these extraterrestrials might have actually created our world.
The film then jumps ahead in time and space. The spaceship Prometheus, a scientific exploratory vehicle, is approaching a forlorn, unknown planet on Dec. 21 2093, on an expedition financed by the elderly head of the giant Weyland Corporation. Shaw and Holloway are among the 17 people aboard, and the crew and scientific staff are just waking up from two years of sleep on the cryogenic deck. The only person awake throughout the voyage is the suave, handsome android David (Michael Fassbender), who unlike the robot played by Ian Holm in Alien declares his identity immediately. David is an engaging invention, a cross between Jeeves and a double-agent in a Jacobean melodrama, and his favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia, the story of a control freak moving between two cultures.
Immediately on touchdown in this godforsaken place, everyone goes eagerly about their business and not unpredictably they discover signs of present or past habitation, some of it reminiscent of the mysterious subterranean world the Nostromo crew visited. Especially excited are Shaw and Holloway, eager to test their theses, but there are also secret agendas being followed by devious capitalists. Most notable among the latter is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the chilly Weyland official heading the operation. She stands in sharp contrast to the warm, open Elizabeth Shaw, and her name more than hints at a kinship to the arms industry and an association with institutionalized violence. Fortunately the sturdy ship’s captain (Idris Elba), like the sensible skipper taking the reckless Carl Denham to Skull Island in King Kong, is only concerned for everyone’s safety and welfare.